Bill Lee

New TNJ edition alert: Lee finds fight between state and Nashville ‘counterproductive’

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters near Crossville on June 1, 2023. He is joined by Senate Republican Caucus Chair Ken Yager, left, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is here. Here is what’s in it:

— Lee: Fight between legislature and Nashville ‘counterproductive’

— Political roundup: Hagerty leading GOP effort to boost early voting, another Humble delay, and the Justins win their primaries.

— From the courts: Rulings favor naughty tags, rights of employees to write to lawmakers

Also: The late Cormac McCarthy’s ode to grimy Knoxville, Sheila Butt doubles down on impact fees, Garth Brooks discusses which clientele he wants for his new honky-tonk, and Judge Tommy Parker weighs in on “low value speech.”

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Group calls on Lee to cancel special session over public safety concerns

Protesters hold a rally outside the state Capitol on April 3, 2023, marking one week since a fatal school shooting in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition is calling on Gov. Bill Lee to cancel a planned special session in August due to public safety concerns about what it calls “schemes made by Marxist agitators targeting said session.”

The letter is signed by the group’s board members Aaron Spradlin, Scott Nelson, Dave Galbraith, and Greg Lewis.

Here’s the letter sent to the governor on Tuesday:

Governor Lee, 

It is important to note, before we get into our main issue of disagreement with you, sir, that we, the Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition, recognize that there are many important things we do agree with you on. To name a few issues from just this past year, we want to commend your commitment to defending the unborn and the right to life, conservative criminal justice reform, and legislation that you’ve signed defending children against mutilation. 

Today, we are writing you because you have made it clear that you are planning to use your authority to officially call an ill-advised special session of the Tennessee General Assembly on August 21st  to address gun issues in the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting tragedy, a heinous and despicable act committed by a mentally ill individual who claimed to be on the transgender spectrum. 

In the interest of public safety, the safety of downtown Nashville, the safety of those brave men and women charged with maintaining order at the Capitol, the safety of legislators, staff, interns, and visitors, and in  defense of the Constitution – we, the Board of the Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition, plainly and emphatically oppose the calling of a special session of the General Assembly on this issue and are prayerfully writing to strongly urge that you reverse course on your plan, not call a special session, and wait until normal session in January to make proposals for the legislature to consider – as is the normal process of government. 

As you and the public are aware, that heinous act of the murder of six individuals has been politicized by far Left activists and anti-Second Amendment groups funded by Leftist interests, the Biden Administration, Marxist agitators in the General Assembly who nearly started a riot over legislatures lack of desire to take away our Second Amendment constitutional rights – namely Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson, and others who wish to make every inroad they can in order to fulfil their ultimate goal of eliminating the constitutional protections that exist in the Second Amendment. 

As you are aware, due to reporting by The Tennessee Star, SuperTalk 99.7 WTN, and other media organizations, Marxist groups that include, Planned Parenthood and the so-called “Tennessee 3” protest organizers have already held at least one meeting in which audio was obtained that demonstrates clear and cohesive planning for agitators and potential terrorists to disrupt a special session. That same audio also contains details that some of the agitators will be armed and that they are planning to be arrested. 

If nothing else, this proposed special session currently scheduled for August 21st has become a rallying cry and a clarion call for every Marxist, Leftist, Soros-funded, and anti-Second Amendment organization across the United States to come to Nashville and, as said in the leaked audio, “____ it up.” 

It is important to oppose any encroachment on the Constitution and we firmly oppose Red Flag laws. The Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition has nothing but the highest praise for the leadership and members of the Tennessee General Assembly who are defending the U.S. Constitution against Red Flag laws, leadership that includes: House Majority Leader William Lamberth (who actively blocked a Red Flag bill presented at the end of this past session), Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, Senator John Stevens, Representative Chris Todd, Representative Rusty Grills, Representative Jason Zachary, Representative Jody Barrett, and many others. 

However, given that the General Assembly has justly made public their commitment to defending the Constitution, the more immediate concern is the danger of violence and other illegal acts that are being planned by the Marxist Left because of the proposed Special Session. 

It is imperative that a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly not be called this summer and we again reiterate our prayer that you, in the interest of public safety, do not officially call the special session currently proposed for August 21st.  

It is additionally worth pointing out that the United States does not have a gun problem, but rather a God problem. The power centers of our society promote mental illness and spurn faith in God. Violence is a crisis of the soul, one that will not be solved by passing additional anti-Second Amendment laws. The only way to fix what ails our national soul is by turning back to God. 

Attached to this letter is a statement of facts that we hope you will additionally consider as you make your decision. 

We look forward to continuing to work with you and your office on areas where we share common ground.

Respectfully and Prayerfully, 

The Board of the Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition 

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Nashville sues governor, speakers over airport board takeover

Nashville has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, and Senate Speaker Randy McNally over a new law stripping the mayor of most his appointments to the city’s airport authority.

Under the previous law, the Nashville mayor named all the members of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority. Republican lawmakers this year passed a bill to give the governor and the speakers the authority to name two members each and leave the mayor with just two.

The lawsuit says the law violates home rule protections in the Tennessee Constitution by applying only to a single local government without local approval. The complaint notes that major airports in Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga are unaffected by the new law.

Nashville earlier this year successfully sued to block a new law cutting the size of the Metro Nashville Council from 40 voting members to 20. The city has also sued to block a state law changing requirements for the council to approve changes at its fairgrounds to accommodate upgrades at its racetrack.

Lee sending 100 Tennessee National Guard members to border with Mexico

Gov. Bill Lee is authorizing the deployment of 100 Tennessee National Guard members to Texas to help patrol the border with Mexico.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

Gov. Lee Authorizes Tennessee National Guard Deployment to Secure Southern Border
100 Tennessee troops to curb ongoing border crisis, support Operation Lone Star

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee authorized the deployment of 100 Tennessee National Guard troops to secure the U.S. Southern border amid an ongoing national security crisis and surging drug crisis being fueled by an open border.

The announcement follows a joint statement from Gov. Lee and fellow Republican governors last week and a border security briefing in Austin on Monday, where Texas Governor Greg Abbott invited states to support ‘Operation Lone Star’ to secure the U.S. Southern border following the end of Title 42.

“America continues to face an unprecedented border crisis that threatens our nation’s security and the safety of Tennesseans,” said Gov. Lee. “The federal government owes Americans a plan to secure our country, and in the meantime, states continue to answer this important call to service. I am again authorizing the Tennessee National Guard to help secure the Southern border, and I commend these troops for providing critical support.”

The Tennessee National Guard members will deploy at the end of May to provide critical support along the U.S. Southern border, including:

• Patrolling and providing additional security presence along the border

• Assisting road and route clearance, barrier placement and debris removal

• Staffing outpost operations

The Tennessee National Guard has supported border security efforts in the past. In December 2021, Gov. Lee authorized 50 additional troops to respond to the surge in illegal crossings and drug-related activity along the U.S. Southern border. Lee also visited more than 300 Tennesseans stationed at the border in July 2021.

“The men and women of the Tennessee National Guard are always ready to serve their country anywhere, anytime,” said Brigadier General Warner Ross, Tennessee’s Adjutant General. “These troops are a capable contingent that will continue our long-standing tradition of responding to the call to aid our fellow Americans. The Tennessee National Guard is proud to serve and support our state partners in safeguarding the United States along the U.S. Southern border.”

Lee calls Aug. 21 special session in response to school shooting

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call lawmakers back into a special session on Aug. 21. Here’s the release from teh governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that he will call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene a special legislative session on August 21, 2023, to strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights. 

“After speaking with members of the General Assembly, I am calling for a special session on August 21 to continue our important discussion about solutions to keep Tennessee communities safe and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Gov. Lee. “There is broad agreement that action is needed, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to listen to Tennesseans and pursue thoughtful, practical measures that strengthen the safety of Tennesseans, preserve Second Amendment rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health.”

Starting today, Tennesseans are invited to engage in the conversation by sharing feedback here.

Gov. Lee will meet with legislators, stakeholders and Tennesseans throughout the summer to discuss practical solutions ahead of the special session. 

The Governor’s office will issue a formal call ahead of the special session. 

Man charged with firing rifle at Memphis Fox affiliate has history of mental illness

A man charged with firing an “AR-style rifle” at the locked door of a Fox affiliate in Memphis has a history of mental illness, his mother told the Commercial Appeal.

Police arrested Jarrad Nathan, 26, after he locked himself in the bathroom of a restaurant near the University of Memphis campus. He was charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment after police said a bullet he fired at the glass door at the TV station. Nobody was injured.

Nathan’s mother, Marsha McKinney, told the paper he has been treated for mental health issues isnce he was young. Nathan was shot in March by a friend of his father, she said.

“I think the mental health problems started at 13, 14 years old,” McKinney said. “It has not been an easy road for me, as a parent, to deal with my son… All we can do is pray. I’ve been praying for my son because I have to do what the Lord wants me to do. Now I’ve got to put my foot in the trenches and do what needs to be done and take care of him.”

The shooting comes as Gov. Bill Lee tries to persuade lawmakers to pass a law to prevent people deemed to be a danger to others from accessing firearms.

Penny Schwinn leaving as education commissioner in Lee adminstration

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bobby Rolfe and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn applaud Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Penny Schwinn, Gov. Bill Lee’s education commissioner since 2019, is leaving in July. She will be succeeded by Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds. Reynolds is a vice president of ExcelinEd, a school choice organization founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the appointment of Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds as commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), effective July 1. Reynolds will succeed Dr. Penny Schwinn, who will step down at the end of the school year after more than four years of service to Tennesseans.

“During her years of dedicated service, Penny has played a key role in our administration’s work to ensure educational opportunity for Tennessee students and secure the next generation of teachers, while navigating historic learning challenges,” said Lee. “I have tremendous gratitude for her leadership and wish her much success in her next chapter.”

Dr. Penny Schwinn joined the Lee administration in January 2019 and has served the state through some of the most challenging education crises in modern history. During Schwinn’s tenure, considerable initiatives to accelerate K-12 education have been implemented and several nationally recognized initiatives have been introduced, including:

• School Funding Reform: In 2022, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act reformed the state’s outdated 30-year-old funding formula and made the largest recurring investment in state history.

• Education Savings Account Program: Tennessee implemented the Education Savings Account (ESA) program to give Tennessee parents a choice in their child’s education. Today, 1,400 students have been approved to attend the school of their choice and nearly 500 students are enrolled in a participating school.

• Preparing the Future Workforce: Tennessee has strengthened vocational education opportunities to give students the skills needed to join the workforce, investing $500 million to expand middle and high school career and technical education programs and extending additional dual enrollment credits for high school juniors and seniors through the Governor’s Investment in Education (GIVE) program. Tennessee also created the Future Workforce Initiative to increase STEM training in K-12 schools, aimed at placing Tennessee in the top 25 states for creating technology jobs by launching new Computer Science and STEM-focused programs

• Teaching Apprenticeship: Tennessee became the first state in the country to make teaching an apprentice-based profession, making it free to become a teacher while being paid to do so. The Grow Your Own initiative has significantly increased the number of teachers, special education and ESL endorsements, aspiring principals and assistant principals, and school leaders of color.

• Prioritizing Literacy & Learning Loss Intervention: Tennessee was among the first states to get students back in the classroom in 2020 and swiftly address learning loss. During an historic special legislative session in January 2021, Gov. Lee and members of the General Assembly passed strong literacy programs to benefit students, namely Reading 360, which has led to almost full academic recovery and created the largest permanent summer school program serving pre-K–9th grade and the largest state tutoring program in the country with over 200,000 students served.

• Innovative School Models: With the single largest one-time investment in public education in state history, Tennessee’s Innovative School Models grant expanded postsecondary opportunities for middle and high school students and more than quadrupled the number of apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities for students.

Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds will succeed Schwinn as commissioner of TDOE.

“Lizzette’s significant education policy expertise and leadership make her well-suited to continue our work to deliver a high-quality education and expand school choice for Tennessee students,” said Lee. “I welcome her to Tennessee and appreciate her service to students, families and teachers across the state.”

Reynolds is currently the Vice President of Policy for ExcelinEd and has previously served as deputy legislative director for then-Governor George W. Bush, Special Assistant in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs for U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Regional Representative for U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Chief Deputy Commissioner at the Texas Education Agency. Her career reflects a deep commitment to school choice, assessment and accountability, college and career pathways and education policy. She earned her undergraduate degree from Southwestern University. She is married to David Reynolds and has three children, Luke, Lillianna and Joaquin.

Sam Pearcy, currently Deputy Commissioner of Operations at TDOE, will serve as the department’s interim commissioner until July 1.

See you in August? Lee’s special session call faces delays

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee made a big splash by announcing the night the legislature adjourned for the year that he was going to call lawmakers back into a special session to take up his proposal to curb access to firearms by people with significant mental problems. Many expected the governor to issue the call by the middle of May.

But amid tepid support for the Lee’s proposed language, several Republicans tell The Tennessee Journal they now expect the special session won’t take place until August – or even September.

Even Lee’s backers are wary of having the measure labeled a “red flag” law, which gun rights supporters argue infringe on Second Amendment rights. Democratic President Joe Biden didn’t help matters for Tennessee Republicans when he commended Lee in the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting for expanding background checks and “calling on the Tennessee statehouse to pass a red flag law.”

GOP leaders in the House and Senate are understood to have warned Lee that calling them into session next month would result in either the bill failing outright – or enough absences to deny a quorum for proceedings to get underway.

It remains to be seen whether Lee takes heed of concerns raised by lawmakers or presses ahead with a bill even if it’s doomed to failure. Lee and his wife, Maria, were close friends of one of the teachers fatally shot at the Covenant School and may want to demonstrate they were willing to try to do something, even if lawmakers don’t go along. Some observers liken the situation to when Gov. Bill Haslam pressed ahead with his Medicaid expansion proposal in 2015 despite a widespread recognition that it was unlikely to pass.

New TNJ edition alert: Handing out awards before Lee calls lawmakers back for another go

With state lawmakers returning home after completing a tumultuous legislative session, the latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is handing out some prizes including:

— Rookies of the Year.

— Bruce Griffey Prize for Legislative Futility.

— Best Leak.

— Revolving Door Award.

— Men Without Hats Prize.

Also: Gary Humble is refusing to cooperate with a campaign finance audit, Marjorie Taylor Greene takes aim at Mark Green, hearing scheduled on Brian Kelsey’s bid to withdraw guilty plea, and Adam Lowe’s hot (mic) take on the attractiveness of gun protesters at the Capitol.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Gov. Bill Lee touts legislative victories, glosses over setbacks

Gov. Bill Lee, center, attends a budget hearing in Nashville on Nov. 9, 2022. He is joined by Finance Commissioner Jim Bryson, right, and COO Brandon Gibson. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is touting his legislative victories in a press release Monday morning. They include his $3.3 billion roads plan, $1 billion to add and upgrade Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, and $400 million in tax cuts.

The governor didn’t get everything he wanted. For example, lawmakers reduced his $100 million ask for crisis pregnancy centers to $20 million, cut in half his planned 200% match for executive branch workers, and stopped $9 million in state employee salary hikes.

Here is the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On Friday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the close of the 2023 legislative session, which includes the successful passage of his $56.2 billion budget and full legislative agenda as outlined during his State of the State address in February.

“To prepare Tennessee for continued growth and prosperity, we’ve made strategic investments to cut taxes, strengthen our workforce, ensure educational opportunity and modernize transportation infrastructure across our state,” said Lee. “I commend the General Assembly for its partnership to pass conservative measures and maintain Tennessee’s reputation for strong fiscal stewardship.”

Lee’s agenda included the landmark Transportation Modernization Act, historic legislation that will create a new transportation strategy and invest $3.3 billion to accommodate Tennessee’s record growth, address traffic congestion and meet transportation needs across rural and urban communities without raising taxes or taking on debt.

The roster of budget and legislative priorities also dedicated $250 million to Tennessee’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing totals to an historic $2.05 billion, and included significant investments in tax relief, K-12 education, Tennessee’s skilled workforce and conservation. Notably, Lee led a comprehensive school safety proposal to enhance physical security in public and non-public schools across Tennessee.

Highlights from Lee’s agenda include the following:

Transportation & Infrastructure Modernization
• $3 billion to the Transportation Modernization Fund to alleviate urban congestion and fund rural road projects across the state, which includes $750 million allocated to each of Tennessee’s four TDOT regions
• $300 million to expand the State Aid Program for local road projects, allocating 15 times more funding toward local communities than they receive each year for transportation projects
• Ensures that Tennessee has the resources necessary to meet current and future transportation needs by engaging in Public-Private Partnerships (P3s), Alternative Delivery Models and Electric/Hybrid vehicle fee parity

Economic Opportunity & Tax Relief
• More than $400 million in tax cuts for Tennessee families and businesses through the Tennessee Works Tax Act, one of the largest tax relief measures in Tennessee history
• $273 million for a one-time, three-month sales tax holiday on grocery items, providing tax relief for Tennessee families
• More than $150 million in annual small business tax relief, including raising the exemption threshold for the business tax, exempting the first $50,000 of net income from excise tax and protecting the first $500,000 in property investment from the franchise tax
• $64 million to simplify tax administration and conform with the federal bonus depreciation provisions of 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, allowing businesses to more quickly recover costs and further incentivize investment in Tennessee production
• Provides foundation for supporting Tennessee’s continued economic growth, aligning Tennessee with more than 30 states by adopting “single sales factor” apportionment for franchise and excise tax

Skilled Workforce
• Nearly $1 billion to complete the TCAT Master Plan to improve 16 existing TCATs, replace seven outdated facilities and build six brand new TCATs at strategic locations across Tennessee

Enhanced School Safety Measures
• $30 million for more than 100 Homeland Security agents across all 95 counties to serve Tennesseans and students in both public and non-public schools
• $140 million for one full-time, armed School Resource Officer (SRO) for every public school
• $40 million for public school security upgrades
• $14 million for private school security upgrades
• $8 million for additional School-Based Behavioral Health Liaisons across the state
• Enacts a multi-tiered accountability plan to ensure exterior doors are locked while students are present
• Requires that private security guards receive active shooter training prior to being posted at schools
• Requires every school district to establish threat assessment teams to ensure students are connected to support services and behavioral health professionals when appropriate
• Requires every public and private school to develop annual safety plans, including a newly required incident command drill for school leaders and law enforcement

Great Schools
• $350 million in additional funding to local education agencies through Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA)
• Combined with $750 million in the base budget, new recurring state funding for the education formula totals more than $1 billion
• Includes $125 million for teacher pay raises
• Increases the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 by 2026, making Tennessee a top-10 state for teacher pay in the nation, and protects teachers and taxpayers by ensuring school districts no longer collect union dues
• Includes funding to extend summer learning camps and expand the eligibility age to Kindergarten through 9th grade

Strong & Healthy Families
• $330 million in shared savings under our first-in-the-nation TennCare Medicaid waiver will help provide for the health of mothers and infants in our most vulnerable communities, providing care at no additional burden to Tennessee taxpayers that will:
• Cover the cost of diapers during the first two years of a baby’s life for mothers on TennCare, becoming the first state in the nation to support parents in this way
• Expand TennCare to underserved parents, supporting an extra 8,100 parents each year
• Establish continuous coverage for children, ensuring no lapse in coverage for children for at least a year, which will help an estimated 10,000 children remain enrolled
• Make permanent Tennessee’s post-partum coverage benefit, ensuring a full year of TennCare coverage to support approximately 3,000 new mothers every year
• Adjust TennCare’s income threshold for pregnant women to 250% of the federal poverty level to cover an additional 2,400 new mothers in need every year
• $20 million for Crisis Pregnancy Provider Support Grants to support crisis pregnancy non-profits, improving access to healthcare and information for expecting mothers
• $10.25 million for TN Fosters Hope grant funding to elevate high quality care for children and families impacted by foster care and adoption, allowing providers to expand services to foster and adoptive families
• $29 million to expand programming for children with complex or special needs that face challenges being placed in a traditional foster or adoptive home by further developing the provider network and providing respite and long-term care

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